Public vs. Private Morality

If it’s true that the personal ethics of people in position to affect the rest of us can have direct consequences for us, that begs the ancient question as to whether there is a significant difference between personal and public or institutional governance. Is it OK for bankers to manage their own money one way while taking risks with others’? Or for the state to enact justice up to the point of violence and killing, while denying those recourses to its citizens?

The consensus view seems to be that it’s complicated, and I don’t have a truly novel answer to pose here myself, at least at this moment.

But I had reason the other day to contemplate the difference between justice blindfolded versus justice open-eyed, holding the sword firmly but the scales less so.

And that made me wonder: when and where is our culture too blind to context, or too willing to let groups of people acting together do things that would be unacceptable if performed individually and personally?

You wouldn’t want to get too carried away in either direction, of course. Total relativism tends to descend into chaos, one way or another; total impartiality tends to split the baby, leaving everyone ill-served. (It also might be a fiction, if often a convenient and sometimes a necessary one.)

So, no: I don’t have easy answers here. But I think we’d better be asking better, tougher questions about this.